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National Parks

Where on Earth: White Sands National Park

What is blanketing this landscape in white?
Credits

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory (https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/).
 
Story adapted from Image of the Day post by Michon Scott: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/39289/white-sands-national-monument

  • Image of White Sands National Monument, New Mexico: Advanced Land Imager, Earth Observing-1 satellite
  • Image of White Sands National Monument: National Park Service
  • Image of shifting sands at White Sands National Monument: National Park Service
  • Written by Claire Blome
  • Designed by Dani Player
  • Music from Yesh Music (ASCAP)
Transcript

(SPEECH)
[MUSIC PLAYING]
 
(DESCRIPTION)
Text, Where on Earth?
 
An expanse of white photographed by the Advanced Land Imager, Earth Observing-1 satellite
 
Text, what is blanketing this landscape in white?
 
A, snowfall in Arizona, B, clouds over Argentina, C, volcanic haze in Guatemala, D, gypsum sand in New Mexico
 
D, gypsum sand in New Mexico, is highlighted
 
Text, the white sands of White Sands National Park are made almost entirely of gypsum, a soft, bright white mineral. Like clouds and snow, gypsum has a very high albedo. It reflects almost all of the sunlight that strikes it.
 
White Sands is located in a large basin in the Chihuahuan Desert. The sand is derived from layers of gypsum rock in the neighboring mountains.
 
Rain and snowmelt have eroded and dissolved the rock, and carried it into the basin, where it reforms as crystals when the water evaporates.
 
Wind picks up the crystals, causing them to crash into each other, break apart, and form fine, rounded grains of sand. The sand is then swept into dunes, which shift continuously with the winds.
 
Gypsum sands are so rare because the mineral dissolves so easily in water. Covering more than 700 square kilometers (275 square miles), White Sands is the largest gypsum field on Earth.
 
We zoom out in space until the Earth is in full view.
 
Text, Where on Earth?